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LI theater debuts virtual 'Comic Gems' movie club

Francois Truffaut touches the face of

 Francois Truffaut touches the face of  actress Jacqueline Bisset in "Day for Night." French actor Jean-Pierre Laud looks at them. The 1973 film kicks off Cinema Arts Centre's "Comic Gems" film series. Credit: Everett Collection / Mondadori Portfolio

Theaters around the country have gone dark, but Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre and longtime collaborator David Schwartz are starting a new movie club.

“Comic Gems: Classic Films with David Schwartz,” will be virtual, of course, with a lineup drawn from the Criterion Channel, the famed repository of cinematic classics. Among the titles: Jacques Tati’s “Mon Oncle” (1958), Luis Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972) and Ernst Lubitsch’s “To Be or Not to Be.” The weekly series kicks off Tuesday, Apr. 28, with Francois Truffaut’s “Day for Night” (1973). Patrons who purchase a Comic Gems program pass — $55 for the public, $45 for Cinema Arts Centre members — will receive a prerecorded video featuring Schwartz’s commentary on the week’s selection and access to a live Zoom discussion each Tuesday at 8 p.m. Participants will also need access to the Criterion Channel, which is being offered at a discounted rate.

“It’s a pretty simple concept,” says Schwartz.

The former chief curator at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens and currently the programmer at Netflix’s Paris Theater in Manhattan, Schwartz grew up in Centerport and worked at the Cinema Arts Centre as a teenager, helping pick films and write copy for the program. Several years ago he helped launch the Cinema’s Preview Club, offering sneak peeks at buzzworthy films. As the shutdown took hold, Schwartz says, he began looking for ways to help the Cinema stay financially solvent and connected with its audience. Inspired by the 92nd St. Y’s virtual film class with Columbia University professor Annette Insdorf, Schwartz decided to compile his own list of film titles and speakers. (His first guest will be Insdorf, who has written a book on Truffaut.)

Schwartz’s Comic Gems program is the latest example of how small theaters are looking for ways to stay relevant while their doors are closed. Cinema Arts Centre recently launched a video series called “Forks & Films” in which local chef Martin Butera prepares a dish related to a given movie (such as meatballs inspired by the famous spaghetti scene in “Lady and the Tramp”). Patchogue’s Plaza Cinema & Media Arts Center last week sold tickets to a Virtual Movie Night that included signature cocktails home-delivered by The Betterman Distilling Company. Meanwhile, various art-house distributors have been offering new releases online and allowing viewers to purchase their “ticket” from a local theater of their choice.

“I have no idea how many people are going to sign up for this, but it’s not that expensive to put together and it’ll be some revenue for the Cinema,” Schwartz says of his program. “The series goes basically through May. And who knows what the world looks like after that.”

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